José David Alfaro Siqueiros (December 29, 1896 in Camargo, Chihuahua, Mexico - January 6, 1974 in Cuernavaca, Morelos, Mexico) was a social realist painter, known for his large murals in fresco that helped establish the Mexican Mural Renaissance, together with works by Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco, and also a member of the Mexican Communist Party who participated in an unsuccessful attempt to assassinate Leon Trotsky in May 1940.
Siqueiros was born the second of three children in Chihuahua, Mexico, in 1896. His father, Cipriano Alfaro, was well-to-do, and was a descendant of Felipe Alfaro of Portugal. His mother, Teresa Siqueiros, came from a Chihuahua family of musicians, actors, and poets. Siqueiros had two siblings: a sister, Luz, three years older, and a brother Chucho, one year younger. David was four years old when his mother died and his father sent the children to live with their paternal grandparents. Siete Filos, David’s grandfather, would have an especially strong role in his upbringing. However, Cipriano, a devout Catholic, disapproved with the way that his parents had been raising the children in the countryside, so in 1907 he brought them back to live with him in Mexico City.
There David attended a biblical school. He credits his first rebellious influence to his sister, who had resisted their father’s religious orthodoxy. Around this time, David was also exposed to new political ideas, mainly along the lines of anarcho-syndicalism. One such political theorist was Dr. Atl, who published a manifesto in 1906 calling for Mexican artists to develop a national art and look to ancient indigenous cultures for inspiration. In 1911 when he was only fifteen years old, Siqueiros was involved in a student strike at the Academy of San Carlos of the National Academy of Fine Arts that protested the school's method of teaching and urged the impeachment of the school's director. Their protests eventually led to the establishment of an “open-air academy” in Santa Anita.
At the age of eighteen, Siqueiros and several of his colleagues from the School of Fine Arts, joined Venustiano Carranza’s Constitutional Army fighting the Huerta government. When Huerta fell in 1914, Siqueiros became entrenched in the “post-revolutionary” infighting, as the Constitutional Army had to battle the political factions of Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata for control. His military travels around the country exposed him to Mexican culture and the raw everyday struggles of the working and rural poor. After Carranza’s forces had gained control, Siqueiros briefly returned to Mexico City to paint before traveling to Europe in 1919. First in Paris, he absorbed the influence of cubism, intrigued particularly with Paul Cézanne and the use of large blocks of intense color. While there, he also met Diego Rivera, another Mexican painter in “the big three” just on the brink of a legendary career in muralism, and traveled with him throughout Italy to study the great fresco painters of the Renaissance.